ALL HELLHOUNDS GO TO HEAVEN (The Warp and Woof Remix)
Neither Ezra Fell or A. Ziraphale or even Azir al-Fayal were ever known as men of wealth and taste (although the latter did have a lovely calligraphic hand, shown to advantage on the paper the West had not yet discovered). He was introverted but not introspective, devoted to getting as many decades of use out of well-made clothing as possible, and really deeply awkward around children—and, being ancient and immortal, he had a definition of “children” that was broader than most, so much so that it sometimes included one particular other being that was exactly the same ageless age as himself.
He was not exactly a man, per se, but if he had been, he would not have been the kind of man likely to ever find himself presented with an accusation of fatherhood. Not that angels are incapable of such—reference the various clandestine trashy-paperback versions of The Book of Enoch circulating under the desks of Heaven with the spines always broken open to certain passages—but the angel Aziraphale was…let us say, not one to be swayed by the beauty of the daughters of Men, and leave it at that.
That’s not to say he was completely oblivious to beauty, even when it was squelching about in a pit of mud, cursing and dodging any futile attempts to rescue its fashionable suit. Oh Crowley—his longtime nemesis, a fiend of the Pit, a destroyer of souls, a treacherous serpent, and under normal circumstances, a terribly vain creature, unlike Aziraphale himself, of course.
Up to his knees in the mud-hole, the demon Crowley decided to take it upon himself to make a snide remark about Aziraphale’s materialism, and Aziraphale reached deep into his store of long-silenced observations to comment on shortcomings in Crowley’s tailoring – because, after all, the lithe demon had such a well-designed corporation, it would be a shame to show it off to less than perfect advantage, and considering how much he valued his public image, and how little true self-awareness he showed regarding same, it was possible he did need, from time to time, the input of completely impartial observers, which of course Aziraphale was.
Also, there was the little matter of the Antichrist to deal with. Again. Rather frequently, in fact – for the little box in Aziraphale’s mind (Regency, silver) that contained the awkward knowledge that he was an unappointed, informal sort of godfather, of all things, to the young son of Lucifer himself, had to be opened with discomfiting frequency.
It came with the knowledge that he had a sort of co-godfather—if Crowley would pardon the expression, and he probably wouldn’t—a fact that bound him and Crowley together in a way that just wouldn’t be right to even try to shake off.
After all, the Antichrist and his friends were children still, and had shown every sign of being capable of going the right way, even if they’d wind up taking a lot of squelchy mud and broken toys and pieces of dead things with them. With a coup like that for Heaven well in sight, what were a few desperate calls to bring them back from the sweltering jungle, from the cold, airless void of space, from the middle of an American Civil War battle, from a becalmed and sinking pirate ship, from an Inquisition torture chamber, from the dark temple of a human-sacrifice cult, and once, on a memorable occasion, an airlift from the side of an erupting volcano that seemed to be regurgitating a magic ring that didn’t agree with it?
There they were, being filthy and adorable as always, and already in the middle of some exchange with Crowley that he’d rather not have heard.
“Are you sure the rain is God crying?” said Crowley. “Maybe He just really, really needed to take a whiz. I know for a fact you all pee in the shower sometimes. He can see you, you know. Maybe you gave Him ideas.”
“Gross,” said Brian, approvingly.
Aziraphale had to admit that Crowley was far, far better with children. Almost certainly it was because demons have a natural affinity with the little creatures. He just sighed. “Crowley, my dear, is there anything you can’t render fundamentally indecent?”
“Blasphemy R Us,” the demon grinned with his sharp little snake teeth.
Adam Young, the scraped-kneed, dirty-eared Antichrist, was a terrifying figure, and not just because he was undeniably, cosmically, archetypally adorable, though that certainly didn’t help – it was because he was a 12-year-old boy powerful enough to neutralize even the threat of his own supernatural father, the Almighty’s only noteworthy enemy, just by turning his hand and changing the world. And that, for all this, he was undeniably a 12-year-old boy who didn’t fully understand all the intricacies of how his his desires could completely alter the warp and woof of the world. He was a walking, running, skateboarding, tree-climbing vortex of unstable reality—and he had a vivid imagination, and was also on the verge of puberty.
For the time being, though, he seemed content to play Lawrence of Arabia (thankfully, not precisely like the real T.E. Lawrence, as Aziraphale would know) and so turn his picturesque little English village into a trackless desert—a very wet desert, at the moment.
That was just about a minute and a half before everything changed. Rescuing the world from Adam’s imagination was usually no great matter – either Aziraphale or Crowley could do it, reaching into the fabric of reality to find the more solid, older weave underneath the shimmering whiffle of The Them’s unusually vivid childhood.
But there was something about Crowley that day, perhaps, something unusually passionate or oddly out of kilter, maybe suffering from an excess of pent-up unused anti-miracles, perhaps a nervous tension…something that made him overshoot the mark by just one small detail.
“Run,” he said.
And run they did, Hellhound on their trail.
And Adam was so steadfastly good, so moral in his refusal to mess with his pet, whom he’d already messed about a good deal in the first place by giving him a purpose of cuteness—which, one would think, was hardly a proper line of work for a Hellhound, but then Hellhounds are generally more intelligent than your average garden mutt, and this particular garden mutt certainly had known he had a good thing going.
Adam was being so prissily moral, in fact, that Aziraphale really had to work very hard to avoid slapping him as Crowley’s Bentley careered about in a desperate attempt to escape the inescapable. Mere metal and sheer willpower were no match for a supernatural being with no purpose anymore but to hunt.
Crowley had grabbed Aziraphale by the neck to jerk him out of the snap of the creature’s teeth, spattering them both in mud, and in proximity to them both, Aziraphale had barely registered an oddity, somewhere in the back of his mind or somewhere behind his mind, buried along with the never-used metaphorical good china of a century ago. There was no time to process the dewy little seed of a thought, though, there was only time to flee and pull the children as far away from harm as possible, even when that harm included each other.
“What’s wrong with Dog, mister Crowley?” Adam said, full of the kind of fear and shock and hurt that really no Antichrist should even be able to feel, but there he was, feeling it all over the place.
And that was when Crowley said it, and it clicked into place. “I…it must have happened because I changed everything near us back to its original form…”
Everything near us, Aziraphale thought. Except himself.
The black shape pursuing them seemed to grow to lorry-sized, but Heart-of-Midnight or Deathbringer or Scourge or Meatgrinder or Souleater or whatever its name was now hardly even registered around the edges of what Aziraphale was thinking, trapped in a car he wasn’t driving, with children he wasn’t comforting.
Of course Adam could think it back into being Dog. And while the little brat thought absolutely nothing of thinking his whole village into, say, a Cecil B. DeMille version of Ancient Egypt, he wouldn’t even apply his power to save his own perfect skin.
Was I ever that rigid about doing The Right Thing? Aziraphale wondered. There was only one other being who could ever possibly know the answer, and he was completely preoccupied with skin and the saving thereof. Aziraphale supposed he knew himself when he caught himself thinking that a nice flaming sword would not go amiss right about now.
He could all but feel it in his hand, strong and solid in its weight and balance, its gleaming, piercing light, its harmless hiss as sparks emitted from it to disappear painlessly into his impenetrable angel skin.
Made for slaying evil-doers, at least in theory. It flamed like anything, and it had done so back in the day when there was hardly anyone to point out that so did Aziraphale.
Crowley’s power to Put Things Right was on a short list of the most terrifying things that Aziraphale had ever narrowly missed experiencing. Even been ripped to pieces by a formerly adorable Hellhound, well, if that was the way it had to be, wasn’t as bad as some of the things that could have happened had he and Crowley been forced to be more like they were supposed to be, shoved back into their original tubes just like toothpaste couldn’t be.
All of these thoughts ripped through Aziraphale’s mind with a speed like supercharged particles, or like a pursuing Hellhound.
“Crowley can get some of his associates from Down There to deal with this, I’m sure,” Aziraphale ventured, having trouble believing he said that until he heard himself say that. He watched Crowley’s other-Adam’s-apple bobbing in horror.
And the Hellhound shot right past them.
Aziraphale wasn’t hearing much anymore…just the name “Anathema” and the supervehicular gunning of the Bentley’s engine. And he heard Crowley’s panic, and Adam’s refusal, and then his ears finally settled on “we’ll have to kill it,” and then Aziraphale understood why he’d been thinking about swords. He didn’t have to like it, he just had to understand it. Again.
In the end, he’d had to settle for a blessed rock. It had an appealing primitivism. Crowley had a sword, though, and Aziraphale paused from the panic just a bit to admire it as Anathema and the children ran, and then Aziraphale saw a flash of ethereal light, a puff of exploding dog hair, and a ripple in reality.
What is this? What happened? We were having fun in the mud and…
Why is Master afraid of me?
Oh. Because I want to kill. I want to bite. I want to rend. I’ll start with that angel. Tasty. Like bacon. Oh, the demon won’t let me get him. I’ll get the kids.
I’ll eat them all. I’ll eat the car.
• * *
Air. Air in my fur. Tongue flapping out. Like going for a ride.
What am I doing? I don’t want to go back to the smelly place. I don’t want to eat icky dead bad souls. I want to be with Master and roll in poop.
There was the lady. At the house with the door. The door hurt at first but then I got better. I’ll go there. Yes. The lady with the door. And the cat. Must not eat the cat. Must not eat the lady. Get better. Make Master want to play with me again.
Aziraphale often calls what he does ‘miracles.’ Sometimes they even are. Although he wouldn’t say so in Crowley’s earshot, he’s watched the demon produce plenty of them too.
But they never quite seem like miracles to Aziraphale, because he’s gone native enough to understand the human way of thinking about them, which is that they need to be, well, miraculous. Shocking and stunning and full of unasked-for Grace, less like magic and more like really truly supernatural good luck.
He’s watching one right now, and since neither he nor Crowley performed it, or even understand it, he gets the full impact. He’s completely surprised; there were no spoilers this time.
He can’t even quite entirely believe it. But Adam does, running forward to hug Dog and get his face good and licked. Aziraphale is not sure that, in the young Antichrist’s position, he would have that much faith.
Even learning that this miracle had an explanation doesn’t do much to diminish its radiant sense of relief, and Aziraphale knows that relief this profound always terrifies Crowley and makes him shiver, so he puts a hand on the demon’s thin shoulder. Yes indeed, shaking like a hair in a vacuum cleaner.
Aziraphale thinks that Crowley needs wine, and safety, and at least one more miracle, one more act of making things As They Should Be.
He tries not to think that with, just a little more oomph in miracles, it could actually have happened that Crowley could have become what he was when he was created—an angel. Unfallen. Unstained. No idea of what falling even means. No knowledge of temptations. Or classic cars, care thereof. Never heard Freddie Mercury’s voice. No knowledge of Arrangements, because there was never any need of them.
Aziraphale knows, just knows, that it could have shattered his mind, wiped away most of what made him Crowley; that somehow, it would be the worst thing that could possibly happen to him; that Hell is not always worse, by definition. It would destroy Crowley, and possibly Aziraphale as well. What did the Americans call it? Clattering damage? Best never to admit that ever again. Best to find a way to keep Crowley away from the pit of his existential angst, because that’s just a never-ending tedious load of wasted time, worse even than sharpening one’s beak on a faraway mountain for no conceivable reason, worse even than The Sound of Music. Nothing good ever came of thinking too much about one’s existence and Purpose, another thing an angel probably oughtn’t admit.
“She should have known it would have worked,” Crowley muttered.
“What would work?”
“The horseshoe,” said Crowley darkly. “Back in the old days, a witch would have known.”
“I’m not certain she even knew it was there,” Aziraphale pointed out.
Crowley gave a sort of sibilant grunt. “You didn’t know either, did you?”
“Can’t say I did, no. Why?”
“You didn’t feel it.”
“No, dear boy, I didn’t.”
“Figures,” Crowley said. “Angels could break in and do all sorts of awful things.”
“Yes, but we wouldn’t.”
“No, but you could.”
Aziraphale sighed. By this time, he was fairly certain that Crowley could do good, at least by accident, but the corollary was better left unspoken.
“You broke into that poor hussy’s body, didn’t you?” Crowley said. “And there is no way to make that not sound lewd, and I even made an effort.”
“It’s the thought that counts, I suppose.”
“You should see the thoughts that didn’t count.”
There was a very different texture to the silence after that. It was full of thoughts that didn’t count before, but were probably about to count a good deal more. With a blur, and a tingle and a whir, a very non-human swirl of senses in the service of something very nearly human indeed, Aziraphale found himself in Crowley’s lap, and then there was nothing for it but to stare and swear as the world realigned itself again.
So terribly close together, they started to quiver with awareness of all the things that skin could say.
“Hello. Well, hell-LO,” and “I know you, you old serpent,” and “Not like this. You don’t know me like this. Yet,” and “I’ve wanted to for so long. So long. I can’t remember how long. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want you,” and “You just don’t want to remember it,” and “You’re right. It must have been very boring then.”
These are some of the things that skin can say. Particularly very sensitive bits of skin: the fingertips, the lips. The skin that lies under shirts and exalts in trembling when the fabric disappears; that strip of belly just above the belt, the subtle groove in the center of the chest, the stretch of the spine between where the wings aren’t—but could be.
Skin was overwhelming enough, when it started to speak. It could be very loud indeed, drowning out all the objections, all existential concerns—pretty much everything that isn’t yes please and there and here and let me, and taste and breathing and tickle and the sound of each’s name in the other’s mouth.
Crowley kept his sunglasses on, but Aziraphale could see his eyes clearly, as they worked yet another miracle to make the world As It Should Be.